I was making the rounds at my local farmers market last week, looking for something off the beaten path in the meat department. I stopped by Woolsey Farm's stand, famous for their excellent lamb, and it hit me. I could get a pound or two of ground lamb and see what I could do with it.
Lamb and beef are mostly interchangeable, but there are differences. Lamb's flavor is quite distinct from beef, so a lamb cheeseburger might not exactly hit the same spot. But ground lamb is nothing if not versatile, and it does open up doors to more exotic culinary traditions.
Ground lamb is popular in Mid-East, Greek and Indian cooking, where it pairs up with things like tzatziki and lemon in very exciting ways. I also think that lamb is more compatible with a wide range of spices and herbs.
In a sandwich
One recipe I came across looked irresistible: a piece of warmed pita bread stuffed with a savory lamb mixture. You'll toss some ground lamb into your skillet along with garlic, onion and spices and cook it up. Then you'll take a large warm pita , spread it with some feta cheese and chopped black olives, and spoon the lamb mixture onto it. Roll it up, and you've got a very nice little sandwich.
As a stuffing
Keeping with that idea of stuffing things, you can stuff a cabbage leaf or stuff a green pepper with your lamb mix. You can even add accents like rice, almonds and dried currents. Of course stuffed cabbage or stuffed peppers are cooked in the oven, and often served with a nice tomato sauce.
Ground lamb is perfect for meatballs of all kinds. One version, called Kofta, is ubiquitous in Middle-east and Indian cooking. Kofta is a savory blend of ground lamb and spices like cinnamon, allspice and ginger. You mix up the blend and then roll out your meatballs. These can end up on a skewer like shish-kabob served with a dollop of tzatziki on the side, or they can be used in soups, stews and curries.
In the UK one extremely popular way to use ground lamb is to make a Shepherd's Pie. Of course the variations on the basic recipe are endless, but you use left over mashed potatoes, vegetables like onion and carrot, and a well seasoned pound or so of ground lamb. When this crust-less pie emerges from the oven, all golden brown on top, it will have everybody licking their chops.
Not far removed from Shepherd's Pie is the classic Greek dish of moussaka.
Many recipes call for the three layers of the dish to be cooked separately, then assembled for final baking. The bottom layer is sautéed eggplant, the middle layer is your cooked spicy lamb mixture, and the top layer is a simple béchamel sauce. Put them in a pan, cook it until it browns on top, then bring it out and let it cool down to warm. This will let the moussaka set firmly, and it won't slide apart when you cut it.